Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Johnnie Walker Red Label
Old Blended Scotch Whisky
Now here is a face everyone will recognise. Just the sight of the bottle means 'whisky' to so many people, it is the ubiquitous whisky in home bars the world over. It is so recognised it has currency as a status symbol in many countries and has appeared in the recent King Kong remake, Wedding Crashers, in Leonard Cohen's "Closing Time", and more...
So what's the story?
In 1820, John Walker established his grocery in Kilmarnock. By the mid-19th century, they were selling “Walker’s Kilmarnock Blended Whiskies” on a wholesale basis. Alexander succeeded John after his death in 1857. With the change in law now allowing the blending of malt and grain whiskies under bond, he developed a flourishing business in blending whisky, registered the name “Walker’s Old Highland Whisky” in 1867. By 1886 they had sales offices from England to Australia to America and they were exporting to over seventy countries worldwide. So they bought a distillery, Cardhu, in 1893 to maintain supply for their increasingly successful whisky. In 1906, a black label was given to the 12 yr old Extra Special Old Highland Whisky to distinguish it from the the Special Old Highland Whisky, which used a red label. “Johnnie Walker” was registered as a trademark in 1908 and a year later Tom Browne created the famous strutting monocled character, “Born 1820—Still Going Strong”.
The trademark square bottle still used today began in 1870s, and sales of Red are around 8 million cases, more than any other whisky, while Black doesn’t do too poorly with a whopping 3.5 million. (All JW does about 20million cases per year) There products are now sold in 120 countries. In order to maintain supply for its European demand in the later 70’s, they stopped all UK sales and exported every Red label. Bells and Grouse became increasingly popular and JW has never been able to make a return to dominance the UK where Bells and Grouse rule the roost.
Has grains between 4 and 6 years old and malts between 5 and 10, including (possibly) Aultmore, Benrinnes, Cardhu, Clynelish, Dailuaine, Caol Ila, Glenkinchie, Glen Ord, Inchgower, Royal Lochnagar, Talisker, and Teaninich, to name just a few... I mean, a dozen.
Prominent grain sweetness, applesauce and vanilla. Attacks up high in the nose. Thin but with a few waves of malt depth offering the toasted taste of rough oat cakes, weak burnt smell, spent matches from yesterday, and wood.
Starts well with exciting hot grains and pepper and clementine skin, but never delivers much beyond sweet barley spirit with the slightest touch of honey and peat making it discernible as 'whisky'. Finish lingers but it is not an exceptionally pleasant one.
Although there is good flavour movement in that impressions change throughout the drinking experience, the impressions just aren't that...well, impressive. Whisky that ice wouldn't hurt. Or coke.
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